Jacob Shafer of Dixon runs the ball against the Byron defense.
Jacob Shafer of Dixon runs the ball against the Byron defense. — Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com

There are no surprises this week when it comes to what lies ahead for the Dixon High School football team.

That’s because the Dukes (5-4) will be tangling with one of the blue blood programs in the state, Stillman Valley, on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.

Stillman Valley (8-1) has won five state championships (1999, 200, 2003, 2009, 2013) under the guidance of Mike Lalor, who has amassed a 197-65 record in his 22nd year at the school. He was a member of the 2019 Illinois High School Football Coaches Association hall of fame class.

Dixon coach Dave Smith, upon learning on Saturday night his team’s first-round opponent would be Stillman Valley, immediately thought of Lalor.

“…You know who Stillman is. Coach Lalor’s teams – there’s a reason why Coach Lalor is in the hall of fame,” Smith said. “He’s one heck of a coach. He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever coached against. His kids will be ready to go. It will be a fun game. It will be at Stillman Valley, and it will be an awesome environment to watch that football game.”

This year’s Cardinals were in position to claim a Big Northern Conference championship, as it began 8-0 before falling 18-7 at home to Genoa-Kingston in Week 9. Stillman Valley, Byron and G-K shared the league title with 8-1 marks.

Stillman Valley has been known for having a potent running game through the years, but the Cardinals have had success throwing the ball with junior quarterback Chad Gerig. Nobody knows that more than the Dukes.

Dixon began the 2019 season with a 37-12 loss at Stillman Valley. While the Cardinals churned out 318 yards on 61 carries, it was the passing game that made them even more difficult to defend. Gerig threw touchdown passes of 32, 43 and 27 yards to fellow junior wide receiver Joe Kuthe.

The Dukes will need to be aware of all facets of a Stillman Valley attack that produced 35.4 points per game this season.

“First we have got to control the run,” Dixon linebacker/safety Garrett Helfrich said. “We have to make sure they don’t lull us to sleep with the run game. Our DBs have to be aware. They caught us off-guard the whole game and were throwing touchdowns.”

This marks the second consecutive season Stillman Valley and Dixon will meet twice. In 2018, the Cardinals opened with a 42-13 road win against the Dukes. The squads played again in the first round of the playoffs, again at A.C. Bowers Field. Stillman Valley also won that game, 28-13, before falling to IC Catholic in the second round of the playoffs.

This year, Dixon has to go on the road for both of its meetings against Stillman Valley. Helfrich and his teammates look at it as an opportunity at redemption.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on us,” Helfrich said. “People didn’t think we were even going to make the playoffs. We lost to Rock Falls [in Week 2] and that really set us behind, so we’ve just got to go out there and play Dixon football.”